Lies that your teacher told you about the Native Americans of the Hiwassee River Valley

Part 28 of the Americas Connected series

by Richard Thornton, Architect and City Planner

Map Above: The Beresford Map was the first map of the Southern Colonies to even mention the Cherokees. It was prepared by John and Richard Beresford of the Carolina Militia at the beginning of the Yamassee War, in which initially most of the major Native American tribes of the Southeast had risen up and killed all white traders in their territories. Note that it shows all of the Hiwassee, Tennessee and Little Tennessee Rivers within Upper Creek (Cusatee) Territory. At this point in time, the Cusatees were allied with the French, who occupied a fort on Bussell Island, where the Little Tennessee joins the Tennessee River. Tennessee students are not told about this French fort or the major presence of Creeks and Uchees in Tennessee. Instead they are now told the lie that “Cherokees in eastern Tennessee greeted the De Soto Expedition in 1540.” Maps older than 1715 show Creeks, Uchee and Shawnee occupying NE Tennessee also.

An Oklahoma professor’s letter changed everything

Before we take you to an outdoor archaeology class of Western Carolina University on the Hiwassee River in May 2010,  it is appropriate that I relate to the readers, what I knew and didn’t know about the Native American history of Hiwassee River at that time.

Dr. Joshua Piker (then) of the History Department of the University of Oklahoma is one of a handful of Oklahoma Creeks, who are seeking to expand their knowledge of the past beyond the folklore from survivors of the Trail of Tears. In July 2008, he sent me an email to inform me that the information in a People of One Fire newsletter on the Battle of Taliwa in 1754 or 1755 (the stories vary) was incorrect. The Cherokees did not capture “all of North Georgia” that year and in fact, never really lived in Georgia until after the American Revolution, when they were given Creek lands in northern Georgia by the United States, without the Creeks knowing about it.

Georgia officials strongly objected to this gift to the Cherokees, but were promised by President George Washington that this was just a temporary measure to end the Chickamauga-Cherokee War.  Georgians were assured that the Cherokees would be moved westward into the Mississippi Territory (included Alabama) within 10 years.  Cherokee Principal Chief Pathkiller was aware of this promise, so made his capital on the Tennessee River in present-day Alabama.  

I didn’t believe him, but Dr. Piker stated that there was no mention of the Battle of Taliwa in any of the colonial archives, only frantic interchanges of letters in the autumn of 1754 between Charleston and Savannah about the catastrophic losses the Cherokees were experiencing as an army of Coweta Creeks marched through North Carolina, burning all Cherokee villages in their path.  Eventually, 32 Cherokee chiefs were captured and executed during that campaign.  Maps show all Cherokee villages south of the Snowbird Mountains to be destroyed.  Colonial reports described the Cherokees to be so thoroughly beaten after the Coweta Invasion and later Anglo-Cherokee War, that they were expected to cease existence as a distinct tribe.

*I now also know that that there was no mention of the Battle of Taliwa or Nancy Ward in Cherokee Principal Chief Charles Hicks’  History of the Cherokee People (1826).  There is a good reason, the myth first appeared in a dime novel, written by a white man in 1828!  Particularly damning is the fact that the father of Charles Hicks, Nathan, was a trader, who worked the same region as Brian Ward,  Nancy Ward’s first husband. Nathan Hicks, Brian Ward and my Creek gggg-grandfather, Jack Bone, served in the same Georgia Patriot Militia Unit, which protected the Georgia frontier from Cherokee attacks.

Nancy was born in the Itsate Creek town of Cho’i-te, where Helen, GA now is situated.  Hicks was born on the headwaters of the Hiwassee River, just on the other side of Unicoi Gap from Chote. Both Hick’s mother and wife were mixed Itsate Creek and Jewish.  Most of Hicks’ siblings relocated to the Oconee River Valley in the Creek Nation after the Cherokee Treaty of 1794. Their descendants live around Dublin and Washington, GA today.  The marked grave of Nathan Hicks is near Washington, GA.  Charles Hicks repeatedly states in his book that he was born in Georgia and lived almost all his life in Georgia.  Academicians and Wikipedia tell you the lie that he was born in either North Carolina or Tennessee.

My first response was that this challenger to orthodoxy from Oklahoma was that he was a nutcase. What did some professor living 800 miles away know about our colonial history?  At that time, I lived only a few minute’s drive from the “Taliwa Battlefield.” The State of Georgia currently maintains two historical markers announcing that the Cherokees won all of northern Georgia in the Battle of Taliwa n 1754 and again won all of northern Georgia in the Battle of Blood Mountain in 1755.  Obviously, all the historians, professors and book authors in the past 250 years would have not have replicated this story, if it was not absolute fact.

There is something very odd about the local histories and tourist brochures in the North Georgia Mountains.  They will say that their county “was the home of the Cherokee Indians for hundreds (or thousands) of years”  then tell you that Cherokee Heroine Nancy Ward led 800 brave Cherokees in the Battle of Taliwa in 1754, where the Cherokees captured all of North Georgia.”  

Weird thing is, though, that only two geographical place names in Northern Georgia,  Yonah Mountain and Walasiyi Gap can be translated with a Cherokee dictionary.  Both those locales had Creek names until AFTER the Cherokees were removed.  They were renamed by white settlers from Burke County, NC.

All of these place names are either Itza Maya, Soque, Creek, Uchee or Southern Arawak words that have no meaning in the Cherokee language other than possibly being proper nouns. The Creek name of Nokose (Bear) Mountain was later changed to the Cherokee name of Yonah (Bear) Mountain . . . after the Cherokees were gone from Georgia. LOL In the mid-1800s a college professor changed Chota Talula (Frog Town) to Walasi-yi . . . Cherokee for “Place of the Frogs.”

Throughout southeastern Tennessee, northern Georgia and western North Carolina one repeatedly sees historical markers, vacation resort web sites, Chamber of Commerce fliers and tourist brochures that casually mention the Battle of Taliwa as fact.  It is also presented as fact in all state and Cherokee history books.  Virtually all media state that an army of only 800 Cherokees defeated all the Muskogee warriors in Georgia then captured the Muskogee Creek town of Taliwa.  In terror of the obvious Cherokee cultural superiority, the Muskogee Creeks gave them all of northern Georgia.  Most historical markers and literature present the capture of Taliwa as an historic moment in the advancement of European civilization in the Southeast. 

The human interest part of this historical event was that a teenage Cherokee, named Nancy Ward, picked up a musket after her husband was killed in the fourth failed attack.  She bravely led the outnumbered Cherokees against the entire Muskogee Creek army and drove them from the field.  Nancy Ward is then presented as a constant friend of white men, who taught Cherokee women how to weave, raise cattle and own African slaves. 

What I wrote back to Joshua was that the story would not be in all the history books, if it wasn’t true.  He politely sent back sections of the Georgia and South Carolina colonial archives that only discuss catastrophic losses by the Cherokees in 1754. It was actually the Creeks, who won the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War.  I wrote back that I would send him maps from the University of Georgia Library to prove that he was wrong. 

So I, for the first time in my career, dived into the colonial maps of the Hargrett Collection at the University of Georgia and Library of Congress map collection.  Joshua was right. The British, French and Spanish colonial maps backed him up completely.  I was 100% wrong about everything. 

The real story of Taliwa

The story of the Battle of Taliwa first appeared in 1828, four years after Nancy Ward’s death, in a dime novel, written by obscure white man in Tennessee, who claimed to be her distant cousin.  Soon thereafter, the fictional story of her life was used by the Cherokee Nation’s lawyers as proof in the Supreme Court Case that the Cherokees owned all of northern Georgia before the Revolution.  The position of Georgia’s attorneys was that the Cherokees were not indigenous to Georgia and therefore were squatters.  They used British and official state of Georgia maps to prove that the book was fictional.

The statement by the Cherokee’s attorneys was not true, but no academician in the late 1800s never bothered to check the maps.  James Mooney of the Smithsonian Institute took the lawyer’s fibs as the truth and thus a myth began. James Mooney grew up in Richmond, Indiana and had no education beyond high school, but today is treated as un-challengeable source on Southeastern Native American history.

John Mitchell’s famous 1755 map of North America shows a broad swath of burned Cherokee villages in western North Carolina and the northeastern tip of Georgia. OBVIOUSLY, the Cherokees did not “conquer all of North Georgia after the Battle of Taliwa.” The Battle of Taliwa did not occur. Note that the original town of Chotee was in Georgia, not Tennessee – where Helen, GA is now located. Anytime that Tennessee professors see an event occurring in Chote or someone born there, they assume that this was in the rather short-lived village of Chote in Tennessee.

Here’s the real history of the Hiwassee River region

The Hiwassee and Tugaloo Rivers remained the official boundary between the Cherokee Alliance and the Creek Confederacy until the 1784 Treaty of Augusta.  Read the book by William Bartram!  In 1776, he learned that the Middle and Overhill Cherokees were on the war path in support of the British and were headed his way.  The Native Americans around present-day Franklin, NC were not ethnic Cherokees, but their allies.  They were friends with Bartram.  Bartram stated that it was a 25-mile journey southward to the Tugaloo River “and the safety of the Creek Nation.”

There was never any Creek town named Taliwa. Attorneys within the Muscogee-Creek Nation researched my query and came to that conclusion.  Taliwa means “choir” in Muskogee. Taliwa is the Apalachicola word for town. The equivalent Muskogee word is Etalwa. The same word in Itsate Creek and Itza Maya is Etula.   

The Apalachicola relocated to the Etowah Valley in 1645 AD to get away from the Spanish. French maps showed that they continued to live there until around 1764, when most villages relocated to the new British province of East Florida – mainly around Pensacola.  The Apalachicola village of Yuhare (Euharlee, GA) stayed put, along with several of the Apalachicola villages further downstream.  They remained there even after the Etowah Valley was given to the Cherokees in 1794.  At the time of the Trail of Tears, there were over 3,000 Creeks living in Northwest and North-Central Georgia!

In June 1754, at the behest of British authorities, all of the branches of the Creek Confederacy, except the town of Koweta, signed a peace treaty with the Cherokee Alliance.  In September 1754, an army from Koweta proceeded to burn all the Cherokee villages in territory within Georgia and North Carolina that the Koweta’s had owned prior to 1715. 

When the Cherokees sent a delegation of leaders to Charleston to beg for Redcoats to protect them from the Kowetas, the Kowetas dispatched assassins to murder the Cherokee leaders in the streets of Charleston.  An equal number of Cherokee leaders were murdered to those Creek leaders murdered in their sleep at the Cherokee town of Tugaloo in 1715.  The Kowetas soon thereafter agreed to end the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War.  

The Cherokees signed a surrender treaty with the Coweta Creeks in December 1754, on the 40th anniversary of the massacre of Creek leaders at Tugaloo. In the treaty, the Cherokees returned all lands taken from the Coweta Creeks since 1715. The Hiwassee River in Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee was accepted as the boundary between the two peoples.

So, in 1755 the thoroughly beaten Cherokees were at peace with the Creek allies of Great Britain.  There was no warfare between the two tribes.  Both British Army maps and the first official map of the State of Georgia show North-Central and Northwest Georgia occupied by Upper Creeks and Chickasaw until 1785.  Very few of the Cherokees villages along the Hiwassee River were reoccupied after the French and Indian War.

Official British Crown maps continued to show the Upper Creeks, Cowetas and Uchees controlling most of northern Georgia throughout the American Revolution.  A 1780 map commissioned by Lord Cornwallis showed the boundary between the Creeks and Cherokees was then the upper Chattahoochee River. Brasstown Bald Mountain and Track Rock Gap were clearly labeled as being in Creek territory.  Cornwallis’s engineering officer estimated that there were 25 Cherokee men of military age in the entire Province of Georgia at that time.  

Spoiler Alert! The version of Nancy Ward’s life seen in dramatic plays is fiction, but the real Nancy Ward is well documented in Georgia newspapers from the late 1700s and early 1800s . . . plus also remembered in county history books.

Because so many direct descendants of Nancy Ward still live in Northeast Georgia, where Nancy lived until 1794, a DNA lab was able to determine her DNA profile. Nancy was primarily Sephardic Jewish and Southern Mesoamerican (Maya or Soque). She carried no North American Indian DNA markers. All of her and her daughter’s string of male lovers were prosperous white men, who enabled her to move up the socio-economic ladder. She was a charming, intelligent courtesan, liked by whites and Natives in Northeast Georgia . . . not a leader of men in battle.

Not being judgmental on Miss Nancy . . . after all . . . long long ago, one enchanted evening, I saw a stranger across a crowded room and fell in love with a French courtesan. LOL

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